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Understanding acceptance

I’d venture a guess that every reader of this letter has heard the axiom known as the serenity prayer – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The prayer is widely attributed to Reinhold Niebhur from his work in the 1930s. It was adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1940s and other 12-Step recovery programs since then. And it’s spread far beyond. It’s easy to see why.

These wise words apply to many challenges that we all face. There are definitely things that we cannot change. Period. Can’t change some medical conditions. Can’t live forever. Can’t speak the language in this place. Can’t be a foot taller. And on it goes. But it is critical to understand that what I can’t change is in my present. And if I believe there’s nothing I can do about it, then nothing will change.

But here’s the brilliance, the magic, of the serenity prayer: it is a circle. Acceptance is where I enter the circle. But without doing more, there is no prayer, only stagnation. I need to do more. I need to do the work. I seek courage to change what I can. I seek wisdom so I don’t drive myself nuts right now – because once I step into that circle, that’s when things can move, and I begin to take back control.

Understand acceptance as a dynamic state. I accept that I am not going to live forever, but I am wise enough to know I may need courage to live this day with joy and integrity. I accept that I’m in a room full of people who speak a language foreign to me. I am not going to be able to fake it or learn it now. But I am wise enough to know that I can summon the courage to communicate with a friendly smile or an outstretched hand, even at the risk of some embarrassment. I accept that I will never be tall enough to reach the cabinet over the refrigerator but I keep a step stool handy so I’ll at least be able to get up there when I need to.

Acceptance is about acknowledging what is true now, and right now, you may feel stuck – or genuinely be stuck – where you are at this moment. Whether it is a personal challenge, a work situation or even our national conversation, begin by accepting what is true now. But acceptance is not equivalent to giving up. When you accept what is true now, you step into that circle.  Change can come in many forms, and not necessarily what you think it is supposed to be. Wisdom is understanding that you have power to make change.

So, step into the circle. The circle goes on and on, by the way. This doesn’t end with one change, it starts there. It is dynamic – acceptance, change, wisdom, acceptance, change, wisdom – as long as you breathe, it goes on, over and over.

You learn. You grown. You change. Community – central to it all – will help you get there.




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